Stanford Study Shows That Students Are Easily Fooled By Fake News

We tend to credit late-millennials and Generation Z, or preteens and teens, with an almost innate ability to understand the latest in available technology, and the implications of relying on it. A Stanford University study of 7,804 students from middle school through college, however, suggests that this age group has a difficult time detecting fake or sponsored news and articles.

Stanford discovered that most students judged an article not by its sources, but on its length and whether or not a large picture was attached. According to Stanford, “More than two out of three middle-schoolers couldn’t see any valid reason to mistrust a post written by a bank executive arguing that young adults need more financial-planning help.” Four out of ten high school students argued that a photo of a deformed daisy was evidence of toxic conditions near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, despite a complete lack of sources.

students using computers

This problem is magnified by the fact that preteens spend an average of 7.5 hours online outside of school. These students are often switching between texting, reading, and watching videos and therefore are not concentrating on whether the websites they perusing are actually legitimate. Schools also have fewer librarians, who traditionally taught media literacy and research skills.

Stanford is combating this lack of media literacy with its own free social studies curriculum. The lessons teach students how to judge the accuracy of historical sources. The curriculum has supposedly been downloaded 3.5 million times since its release.

teens using phones

Facebook is working particularly hard right now on ridding its site of fake and unreliable news sources. The company is improving its technical systems in order to detect what people will flag as false before they do it themselves. Facebook is also learning from third parties to better its verification process by making the reporting process easier for users. Facebook plans to work with journalists in order to learn more about fact-checking and placing warning labels on stories that have been flagged as false.

In the words of my 10th grade social studies teacher, “Everyone has a bias”. Preteens and teens need to learn how to detect it.